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Tuesday, 31 March 2015

David Rocastle - words are not required

David Rocastle

Fourteen years. Never forgotten. My first Arsenal hero.
Watch this video and remember the Great Man. The goal at Old Trafford is the perfect example of his pace, his skill, his power (that's Paul Ince and Bryan Robson he leaves on the floor before he chips Schmeichel) and his ability to do something special.
RIP Rocky

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Super, Super Swede...Anders Limpar remembered

The original Super Swede

Today was a sad day in our house twenty-one years ago. My brother's absolute hero in an Arsenal shirt was Anders Limpar. We had a framed picture of Limpar on our living room wall. But on transfer deadline day in 1994 George Graham sold him to Everton for a song at £1.6m. Anders had been with us for less than four years, but what a time we'd had watching him, even if George didn't trust him enough in the end.
Anders had arrived from Cremonese for £1m in the Summer of 1990 after playing for Sweden at the World Cup. Obviously we hadn't really heard of him - these were the days of the European suspension and any player brought in from abroad was fairly mystical. Having seen Brian Marwood's Arsenal career quickly taper off George had identified a need for a new left-winger who might create the chances Alan Smith had gobbled up in 1988-89 but had been sorely missed in the campaign after that. Marwood had also provided goals, of course, though by George's admission Anders wasn't a man for scoring goals himself. How would it play out for George's expensive gamble? He had also spent £1m and more on each of Andy Linighan and David Seaman that same pre-season - I wonder what became of those two...
Anders decided to announce himself at Wembley in the Makita Tournament against an Aston Villa side that had just missed out on the Division One Championship to Liverpool in May. He picked up the ball on the left edge of the area and, from absolutely nowhere, unleashed a ferocious left-foot shot across Nigel Spink and in to the side of the Wembley net. It was a stunning goal. Pre-season or not it laid a marker. Along with a second-half goal from a young Kevin Campbell it would serve notice of two of Arsenal's most crucial players in the season that lay ahead.
Limpar was simply on fire for most of that season. His skill on the ball was something we hadn't seen from a player at Arsenal pretty much throughout the 1980's. David Rocastle was a different type of player who could beat a man with a trick, but also his power was important. For the slight framed Swede it was all about the quickness of his feet and incredible sense of balance. He was simply unplayable and left defenders trailing in his wake all over the country. He was laying goals on for Merson and Smith, and also weighing in with his own. At Leeds United he scored two (and again in the FA Cup later in the season) with goals that showed his talent and pace at its very best.
He was also a tough and willing fighter. When it all kicked off at Old Trafford (having already scored the only goal) Limpar was to the fore, laying a tremendous right-hook on the jaw of Brian McClair in revenge for him sticking the boot in to a prone Nigel Winterburn. Limpar wasn't a player that could be kicked out of a game like a lot of small wingers might have been. Against Liverpool at Highbury in December he ran the show and won the penalty that put us 2-0 up. In short he was leading us to the Title despite the two point deduction from the FA.
After Christmas he maybe tailed off slightly, but he had done a Marwood-esque job in the first half of the season. He would finish it in the grand manner with a fantastic hat-trick in the 6-1 final day demolition of Coventry City by the newly crowned Champions of England. Alan Smith and Kevin Campbell had scored most of the goals (Campbell effectively replacing the influence Limpar had before Christmas in the run-in) as Arsenal lost just one game. But Anders was the hero, the new darling of Arsenal's North Bank. He was quite simply the Super Swede.

Anders with his League Championship

It never quite got so good again on a consistent basis for Limpar, largely because George lost trust in him. George was also seriously wounded by the way we lost to Benfica in the European Cup and things were to change beyond recognition after the end of 1991-92. But that wasn't before Anders had set up a new partnership with Ian Wright. In a game against Everton just four days before Christmas Wrighty got four goals, and each one was set up by Anders. Ian Wright has gone out of his way at times to talk about how good Limpar was for him at Arsenal. Towards the end of that season Arsenal went on an incredible run and came just a few points short of stopping Leeds from winning the League ahead of Man Utd. We played great football and scored great goals. A front four of Limpar, Wright, Campbell and Merson were unstoppable, with David Rocastle and David Hillier formidable in the midfield. Who could possibly forget his goals against Sheffield Wednesday and, particularly, from the halfway line against Liverpool? We were installed as favourites for the first Premier League. But, as I said above, George had been spooked by the loss to Benfica and the times were changing. Rocastle was sold to Leeds and John Jensen arrived. Trophies would follow, but the style changed and people like Limpar didn't fit in.

This cretin replaced Anders Limpar?!

The season 1992-93 was a disappointing one for Anders. He scored in the early season win at Liverpool, but lack of playing time and injury saw him become a peripheral figure and he missed all the trips to Wembley that season as Arsenal won both domestic cups. In the close season George inexplicably splashed the cash to bring in Eddie McGoldrick from Crystal Palace. He could, in theory, play a number of positions but was really a winger (in reality he couldn't play in any position because, to put it nicely, he was f***ing rubbish). There are very few Arsenal players I actively dislike, but Eddie McGoldrick is one of them. To me he is by far the worst signing we ever made and the worst player I've ever seen get a consistent run in the Arsenal team. The worst Arsenal player ever is some title to have. Limpar started the 1993 Charity Shield game against Man Utd, but that was about as good as it got in the early season. By the time we beat Spurs at White Hart Lane a few weeks later McGoldrick was in the side (one of his very few good games for Arsenal). But he wasn't quite finished yet. In late February and early March 1994 Arsenal went on a short run of form, scoring a few goals in to the bargain. At the heart of all that creativity was the Super Swede. At Southampton, the week before he was sold, he was instrumental in a great four-goal win, linking brilliantly with Wright. For the first time in ages he looked like he was in the team and playing as we knew he could.
For him to then be sold on that Thursday afternoon was a massive shock. Suddenly all the creativity had gone from the side. Of course we went on to win the Cup Winners Cup that season with an unbelievable display against Parma, but the next season was a terrible low point. It ended up with George sacked and Arsenal in a relegation battle. We would lose in the final of the Cup Winners Cup in Paris, while Limpar delighted us all by winning the FA Cup with Everton, having missed out on it at Arsenal.
As I said at the top, this was a sad day in our house twenty-one years ago. But the memories of watching Anders Limpar play for Arsenal will live forever. Have a look at this short video to see what all the fuss was about.
As a short aside, this post will see the website reach 1,000,000 hits since I started it coming up for five years ago. Thank you so much for reading it.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Knackered but winning

This team seems to have some spirit

I was really pleased with the win at Newcastle. Not only did it mean Arsenal won every game they played in March, but it showed that this group of players has some mettle and will to win even when they are up against it. Given that Arsene Wenger made fewer changes than might have been expected following the exertions of midweek in Monaco it was a result of the highest quality at St James' Park.
I've seen only the highlights from the game as I was working until gone midnight on Saturday, such is life, but in the first-half Arsenal were superb. We could (probably should) have been far further ahead than 2-0 (I hesitate to say out of sight on the grounds that we blew a 4-0 lead up there not that long ago). Chances came and went, with Ramsey getting in the way of an almost certain Giroud hat-trick among the best. Giroud showed he is a man in great form with a ball coming off his knee for the first (when things are going your way...) and a great piece of centre-forward play for the second. Alexis buzzed around really well until his battery went flat, while Cazorla and Welbeck seemed to give them a torrid time (more on Danny below). If it hadn't been for Ramsey and his famous back-heel pass to opposition defenders then who knows what the score might have been?
After half-time we started slowly and conceded almost straight away. After that it was almost entirely backs to the wall. That had little to do with Newcastle's quality, and plenty to do with Arsenal's players hitting the wall physically. Arsene got his subs spot on with the energy and running ability of Rosicky and Flamini, while Ospina probably put in his best display for Arsenal so far. It struck me that the likes of Monreal and Cazorla and Alexis had run their race in this game. Meanwhile there was one instance of Ramsey (who has no right to be tired) watching Coquelin have to force his way past him to close down the play on the edge of the box - that was a great little window on the difference in the mentality and desire of certain players. As backs to the wall stuff goes it was fairly impressive from a truly exhausted group of players. Once again Gabriel didn't shirk the physical challenge and there are promising signs from him alongside Koscielny. Yes, we were holding on in the closing stages, but it's no wonder given the schedule we've had that the players looked a bit over done. I couldn't accept the complaining I was reading online about the second-half display given the effort that had been put in to the game on Tuesday.
Amid the defensive hard work on Saturday in the second-half there was one moment of sheer class from Danny Welbeck. He picked up the ball around the half-way line and took off like Thierry Henry. The way he showed the ball to the defender and then raced past him, and away from him, with the ball was so reminiscent of the way Henry would regularly destroy Jamie Carragher (I can think of at least three examples as I sit writhing this). The only thing missing was the finish as he took his customary heavy touch in front of goal, suddenly looking more Sanogo than Henry. It just proved to me, again, that Welbeck is a far better player than I ever thought when he was at Manchester United. If he could just add finishing to his game he would be a truly stunning footballer - his volley in the first-half was sadly typical of Danny in front of the goal. Having said that, he is clearly an improvement on Theo Walcott as a footballer and is one of the many reasons that Theo looks to be seriously out of favour.
With the other results around us it was another important victory in the chase for the highest finish possible. With Chelsea drawing late on yesterday I was starting to get the merest glimmer of excitement that a collapse was possible and we might sneak in at the top, but I think their winner was the end of that once and for all. Second place is certainly not beyond this Arsenal side if they can keep up their form and results. Manchester United look like they might have finally woken up, though Stevie Me gave them a huge helping hand yesterday. Liverpool have had a good run, and Spurs have not yet gone away, so keeping on winning is huge now. We also need a few players to be "injured" before the international games begin.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

When a win feels like a defeat

The worst thing you can give is hope

It was a superb performance from Arsenal last night. All too rarely they perform well away from home in Europe but last night was one of those occasions. However, what happened in the home leg has cost us the chance to progress in the Champions League. This time it wasn't against Barcelona or Bayern Munich, but against a really quite poor team who shouldn't have lived with us. That criminal defending three weeks ago, as we knew it would be, is responsible for us being dumped out of Europe again. In previous years I've had a sense of pride, or of being robbed by some pretty terrible officiating (of which there was plenty last night) as we've gone to the Nou Camp or the Allianz Arena and taken on the best. Last night we showed just how much better we are than Monaco and, despite the fact that we should have had a penalty for the foul on Alexis, I feel disappointed and angry at the players. This is a mess all of our own making and that means I can have no sympathy this morning for the position we find ourselves in. We knew when the draw was made that Arsenal had things in their own hands and they've blown it.
I thought we started slowly last night but once we got going Monaco started to rock badly. Giroud got a deserved opener and within the next few minutes we'd seen the ball hit a defender on the line when he knew nothing about it, a penalty turned down, Giroud nearly turn one in after great work form Welbeck,, and then Danny himself hit a scorcher from a narrow angle that the goalkeeper dealt with. Half-time definitely came too soon as far as Arsenal were concerned.
Arsene Wenger apparently made his feelings known to the pretty awful referee before the second-half but it made little difference to some of the nonsense decisions he was giving, though he rightly added on five minutes at the end amid Monaco's time-wasting. Arsenal just kept going forward and trying to make something happen. At the back Koscielny and Mertesacker, but especially Koscielny, were outstanding in dealing with Monaco breakaways. Koscielny really has developed in to a very fine player and we need to hold on to him if Bayern Munich do come calling.
I wasn't all that happy with the substitutions. Taking Coquelin off meant that Santi Cazorla dropped even deeper at a time when we wanted him closer to the Monaco penalty area. I'd have taken off Alexis Sanchez as he had a pretty awful game all night. Far too often he just gave the ball away. You couldn't fault his effort and his willingness to just keep going, but there has to be an admission at times that someone just isn't having a good game. Taking off Welbeck was ridiculous. At a time when you know you're going to have to start playing a few high balls you don't take off a 6'2" centre-forward. At that point I'd have dispensed with Bellerin and gone three at the back, with Monreal slotting in next to Koscielny and Mertesacker. I remained unimpressed by Ozil, but opinion is certainly divided on him last night. For me he failed again to dominate the game in a way that a player of his quality, and with his transfer fee, should do. I don't doubt his effort last night, and those in the ground largely seemed to think he was one of our better players, but I just don't see it. As for Theo Walcott when he came on, aside from hitting the post in the lead-up to Ramsey's goal, I couldn't see him. He wasn't playing in the centre with Giroud, and he wasn't playing on the wing. It seemed to me that wherever the ball went, Theo didn't. It wasn't a night for hiding but somehow he managed it. We had one final chance to get the winner but the goalkeeper somehow clawed the ball off the line when Giroud/Alexis looked like they'd forced it home.
It hurts this morning because we have been beaten by a far inferior opponent. Maybe if the ref had done his job last night we'd have got through but, as I said above, it was our first-leg display that cost us. From Giroud's missed chances, to the utterly abysmal defending, that game is the reason we have been knocked out again. Now we have to see the players pick themselves up for Newcastle on Saturday. Hopefully the performance they put on last night will keep them confident in spite of the ultimate result.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

The Miracle of Monte Carlo

Wish I was here
There will be sore Gooner heads this morning from Marseilles to Monte Carlo. All along that stunning French coast there are Arsenal fans who have made the trip more in hope than expectation. I would love to have been with them. In a stadium that holds less than 20,000 I fully expect the Arsenal crowd to dominate the atmosphere - many Gooners have tickets in the home sections of the ground. Of course the team needs to produce something special to get us through.
The game itself provides a headline writers dream, while the need for Arsenal to gamble at the home of the most famous casino in the World means the clichés are lining up to be used by the lazy tabloid journalists. It is so annoying that we are going in to this game with one hand already tied behind our backs, purely through our own inadequate display in the first leg.
If there is a positive then it has to be that Arsenal go in with nothing to lose. Much like the AC Milan tie of a few years ago we are out barring a miracle. That being the case we are under no pressure. Score an early(ish) goal and the Monaco players will definitely be feeling the weight on their shoulders. There is no doubt that this Arsenal side has the attacking quality to create the necessary chances to score the goals we need. Whether or not we are capable of doing that without conceding is a moot point. If I'm looking for a positive I would hope that Monaco can't play that well again going forward, and we won't play that badly at the back. It's the hope that kills you, of course.
The third goal that Monaco scored at our place looks and feels like it will be the goal that makes the difference in the final analysis. It was criminal to give that one away having got a goal back and given ourselves an outside chance for the second leg. At 1-2 behind I would be confident of us, at the very least, reversing that result. Now we have to score at least three times to have any chance of even getting to extra-time. If I was offered it now I'd bite your arm off for a 3-1 scoreline at 90 minutes this evening. That being the case there must be no panic, or heads dropping, if Monaco score first tonight - Arsenal's task would still be to score three goals.
Having qualified for the FA Cup semi-final, and got close to Manchester City in the Premier League, this game does not represent the death throes of our season. That is a good thing. But just imagine the confidence the players might gain should they be able to come back from the dead this evening. Who knows what it might set them up to achieve? Certainly the Manager has made all the right noises in the build up to this one, and it's now up to the players to put right what they did wrong a few weeks ago. Unfortunately I see the sort of heroic defeat that has become a feature of our Champions League campaigns in recent years, with a 2-1 or 2-0 win leaving us just short of what we need to go through. But we are still alive, and we do have a chance, even if it's just a long-odds outside bet (cliché alert).
As it's St Patrick's Day I thought I'd leave you with best wishes to any Irish readers (that doesn't include those of you who simply pretend to have some Irish heritage to justify drinking Guinness on March 17th every year) and this link to Arsenal's own homage to the Irish Armada that dominated the team in the late 1970's. Let's hope those travelling Gooners are celebrating like the Irish after the game tonight.

Monday, 16 March 2015

You can't knock Giroud

Keeps banging them in

Two weeks ago Olivier Giroud endured a nightmare evening at home to Monaco. By the time he was hooked by Arsene Wenger he was on the verge of an Eboue-style meltdown in front of a frustrated home crowd. Every time the ball went near him it didn't end up where it was supposed to, and the more he tried the worse it seemed to get. It was an odd kind of thing to happen when Giroud has been in such good goal scoring form. Since coming back to from injury, and being eased back in to the starting XI, he has had probably his strongest run of goals since arriving at Arsenal. Regardless of that form, however, lesser men might have been seriously affected by the humiliation he suffered against Monaco - a game of more than a little interest to a live TV audience in his native France. Whatever else Giroud might be lacking, he certainly isn't short of character.
Giroud was immense in the game on Saturday. He renewed his combination with Aaron Ramsey who also returned to the form we saw so much of last season. The quality of all three Arsenal goals against West Ham was top class, but Giroud was instrumental in the first two. The first saw him linking the play and then taking the ball from Ramsey in the penalty area and burying a great shot in off the post. I think it must be up there with the best goals he has scored for Arsenal. Of course he still needs to do it in the bigger games, and with Monaco coming up tomorrow night he'll get an immediate chance to atone for the other week. But you can't complain about his record this season. To have 14 goals despite missing more than three months with a broken leg shows a great return. He is getting better, and has improved beyond recognition from the man who arrived at Arsenal. His role in the second goal underlined that improvement, with the initial dummy to Ramsey and then a great one-two (he probably should have shot at goal himself) giving the Boyo the chance to get on the scoresheet and wrap up the points.
It is perhaps worth noting that the oft-maligned Giroud has been playing a form of catch-up ever since he arrived at Arsenal. He's always been a decent striker, but not a top one. He was charged with replacing Robin Van Persie who had been totally prolific in the preceding two years, while new to the Premier League and Champions League. Again it's maybe a mark of the man that he could take that challenge in the first place. If he carries on with his current run of form then he will be pushing hard at the door to be accepted as a much better player than we thought. He holds the ball up better than any centre-forward we've had since Alan Smith retired, and it is clear that Ramsey looks a better player when Giroud is in the team with him. Arsenal could make better use of his aerial prowess if someone would just teach the wide players how to cross a ball.
In short, Giroud is becoming a vital component in a seemingly improved Arsenal team. Credit is very much due.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Nothing changes with the FA

It's not for the fans

The Football Association has taken the moral high ground over FIFA with regards custodianship of football. FIFA is an organisation that cares more about the money it can generate, by whichever means, for those that are privileged to run the game. The FA has taken a stand against this, rightly, in order to highlight that FIFA is not good for football. Sadly our Football Association is incapable of keeping it's own house in order as it continues to destroy the flagship FA Cup. And, on this occasion, it has nothing to do with TV companies making Arsenal travel to Manchester on a Monday evening.
Arsenal have revealed that our initial allocation for the FA Cup semi-final is less than 32,000 tickets. Last year we took 52,000 people to the semi-final against Wigan. I fully accept that, unless the opposition is incapable of selling a large number of tickets then giving Arsenal more than 50% of the seats at Wembley would be unfair. However, if you (rightly) assume that Reading or Bradford would also receive the same as Arsenal then you are left with 26,000 seats going anywhere other than the two clubs. Of course the Club Wembley seats are the major problem in terms of people being there who have nothing to do with the sides that are playing, but that still doesn't account for all of the rest of the tickets.
For the Final things get even worse, as we all know. Every year there is widespread condemnation of how Wembley FA Cup tickets are divvied up (apart from those associations, leagues and clubs that get tickets that should rightly belong to those who go and watch their clubs week in, week out). Arsenal have expressed to the FA that they are "disappointed" with the allocation for the semi-final, just as they had to for both FA Cup games at Wembley last year. Almost every club has the same conversation when they get to an FA Cup showpiece game. And yet nothing ever changes. The FA are so stuck up their own arrogant backsides that they still wish to involve their "FA Family" in the big game. Meanwhile, England games are being played out in front of seemingly ever dwindling attendances. Surely they must see a way how they could use the opportunity there to involve their "FA Family".
All of this, of course, is overlooking the fact that FA Cup semi-finals should be nowhere near Wembley in the first place - Stamford Bridge is over 40,000 now so could comfortably hold Arsenal v Spurs, while the Etihad is big enough for Man Utd v Liverpool games at this stage. We should be travelling to Villa Park should Bradford get through, or to Chelsea or Tottenham if Reading were successful. There was something unique about going to the neutral ground for a semi-final. The FA managed to spoil that before it moved them all to Wembley by insisting on Old Trafford always being used. That aside, it was a surreal and enjoyable day out to go to Villa Park or wherever for a semi-final tie. It was an atmosphere that was just totally different to any other game. The most important thing was that tickets went to the clubs playing, and not to some corporate sponsor with no interest in the game. Less tickets, but all fairly shared. Sadly it's yet another game that the self-styled saviours of football have managed to totally mess up. After all, football is not about the fans, just so long as the executives and sponsors are having a good drink.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Ribbons ready for Wembley

Most deserved goal of the season

It's more than 24 hours since we beat Manchester United and I'm still smiling about it. Thanks to the FA and BBC I missed out on being there for one of "those" occasions because of the Monday night kick-off. Having now spent a long day at work I'm just getting round to writing properly about the game. I feel delighted at Arsenal winning, but annoyed at having been unable to go to Manchester.
If anyone disputes that Arsenal deserved to win the game last night then they need to be kicked in the shins. If it wasn't for David De Gea we would have won by at least three goals. The quality of his saves from Santi Cazorla and Alexis demonstrated perfectly that he is up there with Courtois and Neuer as the best around right now - I fully expect him to be at Real Madrid next season. For all his brilliance, however, Arsenal were fairly irresistible against a poor excuse for a Manchester United team.
The media have fawned over Manchester United for years as they lived in fear of Ferguson's cold shoulder. However, last night showed them for what they are now, and have been for a long time. Even under Ferguson there was a horrible, niggling, nasty nature to their players. In Fellaini and Rojo they have two of the dirtiest performers in the Premier League. Put that together with the desire of their players to cheat by diving (and Rooney has long been an exponent of it) and Rooney's (again) constant wish to harangue the referee at every decision and you have an ugly football team. At least under Ferguson they played good football. Under Van Gaal they are slow, negative, and rely on long-balls to Fellaini hoping that he can win a header (having fouled his opponent) and maybe bring someone else in to play around the edge of the penalty area. And then there is Van Gaal the tactical genius, a man lauded by our wonderful press for changing his goalkeeper ahead of a penalty shootout at the World Cup. Last night he was exposed as the sort of idiot that moves Ashley Young to full-back just after he has roasted the recently introduced Calum Chambers, a player who is dangerously bad at dealing with a pacy winger. If Wenger had done that the press, and the Arsenal fans, would be all over him today. But that's enough about them. Let's move on to Arsenal.
The effort from the players last night was there for all to see. As at Manchester City, and unlike at Spurs, every one of them was up for the battle last night. There was the same tactic as at City of dropping off and making ourselves difficult to break down, with Coquelin and Cazorla dominating the midfield. Coquelin was too strong for Fellaini despite being elbowed by the giant oaf in the first minute (the BBC failed to show a replay of the incident having dismissed it as accidental - it's amazing how often Fellaini "accidentally" elbows people in the face). Danny Welbeck's running up front was dragging their defence around even though he was struggling when the ball reached him, though at least twice Arsenal players didn't pass to him when they might have put him in on goal. Alexis was tormenting Valencia but again refusing to go past him on the outside, but the main threat was coming from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who took Luke Shaw back to school. How Shaw was talked in to the England squad ahead of Kieran Gibbs for the World Cup sums up the way our media influences the England Manager. Shaw is terrible, even worse than Chambers, and Southampton must be laughing all the way to the bank. When a move did break down for Arsenal it was notable to me that Mesut Ozil was charging back and making tackles and being physical - the stick he was getting from Danny Murphy on the TV was an absolute joke, while Guy Mowbray's preference of Manchester United made Sky's commentators sound positively anti-Manc.
Our first goal came from a wonderful run by The Ox. It showed the effect of running at defenders, and drawing them out of position. By doing so he created the space that Nacho Monreal got himself into to bury a brilliant finish past De Gea. Watching it in slow-motion you'd never know Nacho was a full-back with the way he picked his spot. I've found it amusing today seeing all these people saying how impressed they've been with Monreal in recent weeks. Regulars to this site will know I've been praising him all season for his performances. He was getting ridiculous stick when filling in at centre-back earlier in the season when he was absolutely carrying Mertesacker, and now people are finally coming to the party. I still think Kieran Gibbs is a better player, but Monreal is in the side on merit at the moment and rarely has a goal been more deserved than his last night.
The second goal was obviously a defensive mistake, but it was forced by the hard work and pressing of Alexis and Welbeck - nobody in the squad works as hard as those two do off the ball. For Welbeck to then show his pace and beat De Gea to the ball told you what he's all about, and he had the presence of mind to steady himself down before rolling the ball in. His celebration was clearly a show from a man who felt he was proving a point to Van Gaal, and it was classless of the United fans to boo him from the pitch when he was substituted. Welbeck has proved to me that he is a far better footballer than I ever gave him credit for before he came to Arsenal, and I just wish he could add consistent goal scoring to his armoury for he'd be some player with that.
We were pretty comfortable for the rest of the game if truth be told. The referee played his part by getting everything right in the second-half. Di Maria can have no complaints and neither can Januzaj. If Mr Oliver had dealt with Fellaini and Rojo better in the first-half, and given us a clear penalty, then we'd have been even more comfortable. As it was 2-1 was enough. With a very favourable draw in the semi-final we can have only ourselves to blame if we're not back at Wembley for another FA Cup Final at the end of May. Now let's enjoy this until the weekend when we have to beat West Ham.

Welbeck shatters the Theatre of Muppets

Always said this boy could play

I just wanted to write this before I go off to work today:
Proper blog post tonight (hopefully)

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Everyone had a restricted view last night

Back in the groove

I didn't go to QPR. I was at home trying to desperately to raise an internet stream that would let me see the game. As it was I only got one for the second-half, meaning that I had only a marginally better view of the match than those in the away end at Loftus Road. The difference was that they had all paid over £50 for the "privilege" of being in the stadium. It is outrageous that QPR are allowed to get away with charging what they do for the view you get from that away end. The picture below shows you just one of those posted to Twitter last night (this one from @weststandtone) by the travelling Gooners. We are forever reading and hearing about Arsenal's awful ticket prices, but at least you can see the game in our stadium. Before the BBC and The Sun start throwing muck in our direction they should be addressing this kind of rip-off.

Not a hope of seeing either of the Arsenal goals from here

As I said above I only saw the second-half of the game. Reading stuff from people who were there it seemed that Arsenal hadn't really played at all before half-time, apart from one move near the interval that saw Cazorla draw a save from Green. Ospina had apparently done fairly well under the high ball, though we'd lost Gabriel to, believe it or not, a hamstring injury. I don't care what Arsene Wenger or anyone else at Arsenal says, there is something wrong somewhere for so many of our players to be suffering similar injuries so regularly.
For the first 35 minutes of the second-half I thought Arsenal were very good. QPR couldn't handle the pace of some of the Arsenal players, with 34 year-old Tomas Rosicky utterly humiliating Sandro before laying a goal on a plate for Ozil. Even with my, not exactly HD, internet stream I could see that Ozil was being pulled back by Karl Henry as he went to tap it in to the empty net. It was a clear foul, a penalty and a red card and yet Mr Friend somehow missed it. Something has got to change with the refereeing and it has got to change soon. These men are ruining the game for people that have paid top dollar to go and see it.
Arsenal, to their credit, didn't sulk at the injustice and just kept going at QPR. There were a few occasions where Alexis faced up young Furlong and was shown the outside, but chose to come in on his right foot. I was getting annoyed that he didn't just go past the lad on the outside, at least once, as he had the beating of him every time. Green was playing his usual outstanding game against Arsenal and keeping Rangers in it. And then Alexis decided to employ a different strategy and passed to an overlapping Gibbs, who managed to squeeze the ball to Giroud for a close-range finish. When you look at Giroud's record since Christmas you have to wonder just why things went so wrong last week.
Alexis should have made it 2-0 shortly after when he and Giroud robbed a defender and sent the Chilean in on Green, but he tried to pass instead of putting it in the net and the chance went away. As I was watching it, aside from getting frustrated that we weren't putting QPR away, I felt that Alexis was looking close to his best again after a couple of weeks of looking off the pace. He finally decided to go on the outside of Furlong at last, then cut back on his right foot inside the area, and drilled past Green at the near post. You could see the relief as he celebrated. If he can finish the season the way he started it then we might yet be celebrating a trophy come the end of May.
Of course Arsenal, being Arsenal, decided to give a goal away with ten minutes to go. It was a decent strike by Austin, but the defence wasn't close enough to him and I felt Ospina was slow to react to it. That meant ten minutes of struggle when we should have been out of sight. In fairness to the defence and Coquelin we held on fairly comfortably (though Coquelin trying to back-heel the ball to Gibbs in the 93rd minute, 40 yards from our goal, really was pushing it!)
It was an important three points in the context of all the other results this midweek. The players have bounced back well from the defeat in Europe and we go in to the FA Cup tie at Manchester United with confidence. Mertesacker will be in the side for that one, with Gabriel out injured, and we have to hope being left out on Sunday has focused the mind a bit for the BFG. With five days rest before it, and five days rest after it, there is no excuse for any kind of "rotation" on Monday night - Arsenal need to go for it and beat Manchester United, surely the luckiest team in England this season.